In most church services, there is a time of Intercessory Prayer when the concerns of the congregation are lifted up to God. Typically these include prayers for the church, the world, the suffering, and those who have died or are dying and their families. These prayers are often referred to simply as ‘The Prayers’, when they are in fact just one of the many kinds of prayer that are used in the service.
Is it OK to ask God for things?
Sometimes, this kind of praying is criticised or looked down on, as if it was just about sending a wish list to a kind of cosmic Father Christmas. But although just asking God for things would be a very limited kind of praying, asking God is something that Jesus told people to do. For example, one of the parables (stories with a message) that Jesus told was the parable of the persistent widow:
‘In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about people. And there was a widow in the town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary’. For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about people, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so the she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming’! And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to God day and night?’ (Luke 18:2-7).
Jesus also included the line ‘give us today our daily bread’ in the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer he taught his disciples when they asked him to teach them how to pray.
So, far from being embarrased to ask God for the things we need and desire, we should make sure we regularly include an element of asking in our prayers.
As with thanksgiving, asking God to help means a lot more than just what it seems on the surface. In no particular order:
- It means admitting that we can’t achieve everything we want to happen by ourselves. Very often there are situations around the world, and closer to home, that make us feel helpless. We feel powerless to make a difference, and yet we feel very strongly that something must be done. In asking God’s help, we are acknowledging the limits of our own influence.
- We are also, though, opening ourselves up to the possibility that we may have to do something to be part of the solution. In asking God to help in a situation, it is always worth listening for a while after asking, in case you hear something that you can do. In this kind of prayer we consciously volunteer ourselves as God’s assistants or co-workers in bringing about change.
- Supplication is also a confession of faith in God. By asking God to intervene in a situation, we are saying we believe that God has the power to do so. This doesn’t mean we expect miracles to happen every time we pray, but it does mean we are opening our minds to the possibility of God’s transforming power making a difference in the world. Regularly asking for God’s help cultivates an attitude of hopeful expectancy in us.
What should we ask for?
The short answer is, anything that is on your mind! The Bible is full of examples of people asking for what they most want, from good things like food, water, and justice, to bad things like revenge.
Basically, the rule of thumb is to be honest. Tell God what you are really feeling, what you are desparate about, what you want more than anything in the world. The Christian belief is that God knows what you are thinking anyway, of course, so you might as well be honest! God isn’t going to think any better of you for trying to hide your true feelings and desires.
The Experiment: A Prayer Tree
Gather some twigs, and put them in a vase or empty jam jar; or you could use a fairly substantial potted plant for this, or even a jewellery tree.
Now get some little notes to hang on the twigs. The easiest thing is to use gift tags with a hanging loop of thread already attached. Or just use pieces of paper, either plain or cut out to look like leaves. Use a hole punch or a sharp pencil to make a hole in each one, and a loop of thread, wool or gift ribbon so it can be hung on the tree.
Write each person or situation that you want to ask God’s help for on one of the tags, and hang it on the tree, consciously giving that person or situation to God and handing over your worry about it to God as you do so.
Then place the tree somewhere in your room. You might want to sit and pray through each of the tags each day, or once a week, and you can add new ones whenever you like. When one no longer needs praying for, you can remove it from the tree. You might want to keep any prayers that you feel have been answered in a box: if you keep adding to the tree regularly, then this box could become a lovely record of answered prayers.